The Ocean Beach Empire of Michael Mills

by on September 27, 2016 · 42 comments

in Ocean Beach


Michael Mills’ properties in Ocean Beach. Each red star represents a separate property.

Originally posted Sept 27, 2016

Slumlord Owns 241 Housing Units in OB

Many OBceans struggle long and hard to earn the financial resources to purchase their one house, condo or apartment. Many never obtain enough to make the plunge into buying property in Ocean Beach.  It is so expensive to buy a home here at the coast, that it’s prohibitive for most.

Not Michael Mills, the notorious slumlord of Ocean Beach.

Mills has a virtual empire in OB. He and his trusts own 241 homes, condos and apartments in the Ocean Beach area.

Imagine that. Two-hundred and forty-one units. And many of these units are within multi-unit apartments.  Look at that map. See the list.



Back last June, we began the effort to document Mills’ properties in the community.  On June 4th, a tenants’ rights rally was held in OB at the end of Newport. During the event, Mills’ name kept coming up. Here’s how we reported then:

On Saturday, June 4th, activists from a renters’ advocate organization called San Diego Tenants United held a rally at the foot of Newport Avenue, where among other issues in the speeches and testimonials given by organizers, supporters and OB tenants, the name of a notorious OB slumlord was mentioned several times: Michael Mills.

Mills owns a lot of property in Ocean Beach – many rental units. And he has a long history buying up properties, raising rents, and maintaining sub-standard living conditions. In fact, back in 1998, a judge sentenced Mills to a year in jail after he pleaded no contest to 10 charges of maintaining substandard rental properties in Ocean Beach.

The judge also placed Mills on three years probation, and one of his conditions of probation was to hire a professional management company to bring his properties up to code.

At the sentencing, the Deputy City Attorney hailed the victory over the slumlord, particularly since many of his tenants were low-income families with children. San Diego Source (1-28-1998)

Rumors have swirled for years about how many rental units Mills actually owns, so we set out… to find just a few of his properties. 

The June article continued with an accounting of 51 units owned by Mills, along with photos of a number of the apartments and units.

More recently, with the aid of a property researcher (who wishes to remain anonymous), we continued our search of his land holdings in the village.


Mills’ properties in the War Zone, northwest OB. Each red star represents a separate property.

What we came up is astounding. We put together a long list of his properties in OB and surrounding neighborhoods. And we tallied them up and found he and his trusts own 241 units. They are scattered all over OB and parts of Point Loma, but Mills has focused on the old “war zone” area of northwest OB.

Six out of every 7 OBceans rent. So, with this base to work from, Mills has enjoyed decades of living off the land – with hundreds of residents paying him and his managers. Imagine just one month’s worth of rent: 241 units x $1200 (a low-ball figure for an apartment, definitely). A very conservative estimate, then is around $300,000. A month. Which is over $3 and half millions a year – taken from OB tenants. (Certainly, many units may not be occupied, but that $1200 figure is so low, it’s almost silly.)

Of course, this is not “profit”, for he has to pay mortgages, his managers, all the upkeep and maintenance on all these units.

Our good friend Dave Rice – who writes for the SD Reader – also reported on the rally back last June. One of the organizers of that rally, Rebecca Shulman of San Diego Tenants United , told Rice:

“Michael Mills has…been paying cash for multi-unit buildings around O.B. and, after 60 days, raising rents. Some of the tenants who’ve remained in these buildings say they’re half empty now, and though he’s coming in and putting a little paint on, some flooring, but if you look at the properties he owns they’re really some of the gnarliest, most run-down buildings in O.B.”

One thing our map doesn’t show, are the multiple unit complexes and apartments.

For example, his property at 4955 Niagara – only 1 star on our map – has 37 units – his largest complex in OB, which he bought in 1991. His place at 4657 Muir – which takes up half a block – has 25 units.

Our list and map tell the general story. We’re sure there are hundreds of individual stories of tenants of Mills. But for now, for today, this is sufficient. They stand for what they are.

Part of the OB Rag’s eternal quest to provide truth to the village residents. More to come.

Here’s the list:


{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiz September 27, 2016 at 1:22 pm

Sounds like time for tenant to pitch in together and sue.


Frank Gormlie September 27, 2016 at 1:23 pm

There’s at least 1 or more properties that are not shown on the maps. Rialto and Pescadero .


lord of the slums September 27, 2016 at 1:53 pm

I’ll be in next month to install new kitchen faucets and double pane windows… and deliver rent increase letters.

Low income renters should be thankful for slums. If these properties sold tomorrow they’d probably get turned into luxury rentals or vacation rentals.


OB Joe September 27, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Appreciate your tongue-in-cheek comments. Low income people SHOULD be grateful for slums, by golly.


lord of the slums September 28, 2016 at 11:07 am

Nothing tongue in cheek about it. Renters want stuff fixed, but don’t want the rent to increase? I get that there are minimum housing standards, but even “upgrading” to those would probably result in a rent increase. It looks like this guy’s managers are trying to get the maximum rent someone is willing to pay, for the least amount of work. (Not exactly good practice, as they could be more profitable if they spent more and charged more.) But they aren’t taking money from anyone. Sure, shady practices, bait and switch pricing, concealing serious issues is another story, but this article says pretty much nothing about that. Some details about the violations that merited a jail sentence would be useful, it’s public record.

If you can tell the property is “gnarly and rundown” by looking at it, then you can go rent somewhere nicer that probably costs more.


Frank Gormlie September 28, 2016 at 1:13 pm

Hey Lord – you definitely sound like a “good” capitalist. But I appreciate your frankness; you’re the “lord”, all renters want is get stuff fixed – despite many tenants actually repairing so much stuff themselves, and not getting reimbursement. But that real capitalist spirit came out, oh lord, when you stated that forcing landlords to provide “even minimum housing standards” would have to result in a rent increase. Nice. So forcing landlords to abide by the law allows them to then take out on the renters. Part of the story you missed is that before he was convicted, he didn’t have responsible property managers and the court ordered him to hire them, as part of his sentence.

Finally, sure Mills isn’t taking money from anybody. It’s not cheap living here at the beach, and people get that. But when they are facing unscrupulous large landlords with offices near Los Angeles who may have a semi-monopoly on rental properties, renters are held over a barrel, and are actually forced into paying higher rents – then that is taking money from people. The more dough Mills and other large landlords take is less money spent in the community, at local businesses, at the breweries, restaurants, stores, gas stations – …


lord of the slums September 28, 2016 at 3:54 pm

I’d hardly call 140 units a monopoly. There are over 10,000 people in OB proper and most are renting from someone. OB certainly has a housing crisis, but attacking owners of the bottom end units is the wrong way to go about it. Instead, stick to obstructing the investors, flippers, and STVR operators that are displacing these dumpy rentals and driving up prices.


editordude September 27, 2016 at 8:21 pm

If any tenant of Mills’ properties wants to speak out anonymously, we can accommodate you. Send me an email at


bodysurferbob September 27, 2016 at 8:24 pm

holy guacamole batman, this guy’s rich. he’s been suckng money out of ob people for decades. maybe he gives back, by supporting local non-profits, charities, ob elementary school, the churches?, the people who feed the homeless, the town council in all the great things they do, uh, uh …. anybody know if he gives back?


property rights guy September 27, 2016 at 11:39 pm

God bless the USA where someone has the right to own property and do with it whatever he/she lawfully wants and someone else has the right to choose not to live there.

Why is a common them in this rag the sense of entitlement a certain low-income few feel they have to live at the beach? There are plenty of less expensive options for housing in San Diego than along the coast.



RB September 28, 2016 at 6:41 am

The price or rent is determined by both the supply and demand for beach rental units. Any rental unit, priced beyond what tenants are willing to pay, will remain vacant. In California the cost of land and supply limiting regulation has increased price more than any one property owner.


Dirty Dick September 28, 2016 at 7:15 am

Rumor has it he made his fortune in producing porn and parlayed that into his real estate empire.


Christo September 28, 2016 at 8:23 am

How about rounding out the picture and including what each of those properties sold for?


Dave September 28, 2016 at 9:53 pm

We’ve got that information and more, as it’s a matter of public record. I assume it’ll be forthcoming in future installments where we get into a bit about the implications of large-scale ownership of the community being consolidated into fewer hands.

Someone mentioned 241 units may not seem like much in a community of 10,000 (I believe the actual population estimate is closer to 12,000), but if you assumed an average occupancy of three people per unit, any OBecian would have about a 1 in 16 chance of living under one landlord. Subtract the owners and maybe 10 percent of the whole town’s tenants live in a Mills property. Is that kind of concentration (especially since there are a handful of others, I’m sure, who own a disproportionately large share of housing stock or commercial storefronts) a good thing for the community?


Jon September 28, 2016 at 9:31 am

I live near a Mills property. Before he bought it there was an insane amount of open drug dealing in the streets/alleys, fighting and partying at all hours of day/night. I love a good party. But these were drug-fueled insane gatherings that normally ended in fighting in the streets. Mills bought it and got rid of the trouble makers (albeit very slowly), and spruced up the place some. So I’m actually grateful for that, and I think it’s sort of the opposite of what a slum lord is right? If they were slumlords, they would fix nothing and raise rents. So I think the word is being used a bit loosely by those upset by him. Now, with so many properties, I don’t doubt there are valid instances of people getting screwed over in some way. I’m only addressing the one experience I have had, and it’s been relatively positive since they cleaned up a pretty awful situation. Also, these are long-term rentals correct? If so, I’m glad he isn’t buying up this many properties to turn into STVRs. That would wipe out 241 housing units. I don’t even want to imagine that scenario..


kh September 28, 2016 at 11:17 am

yeah you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Every place I’ve rented, I’ve fixed everything myself that had to be fixed. No way I was going to ask the landlord and give them a reason to raise the rent.

I hear the BS excuse that everyone isn’t handy. Well I wasn’t born knowing how to rebuild a kitchen faucet or replace an electrical outlet, I learned it. Because they are skills that saved me money and saved me being dependent on others.


Debbie September 28, 2016 at 11:12 am

No personal experience with this dude but I wonder why if one does not like where they live, why don’t they move?


Brian Brady September 28, 2016 at 3:07 pm

“anybody know if he gives back?”

He shelters 241 families.

Lord of the Slums made some really good comments here about property management. If the owner truly wanted to maximize his income, he would convert to condos.

I don’t love poorly maintained properties but, as someone who lived in one and did my own maintenance, I was grateful for the affordable rent.


LWoody December 14, 2016 at 9:57 pm

In no way does taking advantage of 241 families by charging high rent for substandard housing qualify as “giving back”.


Woody December 15, 2016 at 9:19 am

In no way does taking advantage of 241 families by charging high rent for substandard housing qualify as “giving back”.


OB Mercy October 7, 2016 at 5:56 pm

I’ve talked to tenants who currently live in his bldgs or used to. The ones that used to say their rents were raised $300-500 after Mills bought them. Assuming they’re not lying to me….doesn’t that seem ridiculously excessive? They told me he did NOT fix things. Sigh…who to believe??

Our bldg was up for sale earlier this year. We have AWESOME landlords. We all got together and signed a letter pleading with them to NOT sell to Mills. 6 months after being on the market, they decided not to sell. I doubt it was our letter, but I’d like to think it had SOME influence!


Woody December 14, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Sounds like he’s putting money that should go to maintaining his existing properties to a decent standard into buying more properties – which would make him a typical greedhead. This is what happens without proper regulation and enforcement of this kind of destructive, anti-social behavior, aka capitalism.

Every human being deserves access to decent, affordable housing. And guess what, property rights guy, affordable housing is a problem all over San Diego, not just at the beach. I think the “sense of entitlement” lies with those who feel they have a god given right to enrich themselves by exploiting others.

And Debbie…moving is expensive. Some people can’t afford it.


Debbie December 14, 2016 at 9:15 pm

If one moves into an apartment in OB and they think is “affordable” they probably should expect the rent to increase since all indications in the RE marketplace are that rents will continue to escalate. OB is the beach and it’s not cheap or affordable.

It all depends on ones priority and what you are willing to pay for. A place to live is important and if you do not want to move you may have to give up things like Starbucks, Craft Beer, concerts, football games, dinner out, cells phone with all the bells and whistles, Cable TV etc. Another option is get a second job.

Whenever possible, buy something and that will help to control your housing costs. You cannot depend on the government to do that for you. Get a two bedroom condo and rent a room to a friend. If you cannot afford the beach, drive and visit on the weekend to do surf, play, etc.

Just some suggestions for consideration.


Woody December 14, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Thanks so much for the advice Debbie! Gosh, these are such great tips! You are right, the problem is that most people are not working hard enough or budgeting wisely enough. It can’t possibly have anything to do with the unchecked greed of the ruling class. I’m gonna go pull myself right up by my bootstraps now!


Woody December 14, 2016 at 9:58 pm

Genius! Why didn’t I think of that!


Woody December 14, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Triggerfinger that is genius! Why didn’t I think of that! :)


triggerfinger December 14, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Well I haven’t heard any better ideas. Just lots of complaining. Maybe you should make friends with this Mills person and try and show him the light.


OB John December 14, 2016 at 10:39 pm

Yes one of the greatest schoolyard tricks in the book is to side with the bully, he will always have your back!

Really Triggr????


triggerfinger December 14, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Or you could “buy” a place yourself and pay twice as much as those renting.


Debbie December 14, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Just an example:

$245,000 asking price monthly $1,037 mortgage, $225 taxes, $317 HOA = $1,579 rent a room $700 Final cost $879….Plus you get benefits to write off interest payment and property taxes. Just saying something to consider. Of course savings are needed for a down payment.

It’s not for everyone but it’s one way to protect against rising rents.

As of November 2016, average apartment rent within the city of of San Diego, CA is $2105. One bedroom apartments in San Diego rent for $1764 a month on average and two bedroom apartment rents average $2236.


Woody December 15, 2016 at 7:20 am

Debbie, I don’t personally live in a slum. This isn’t about me. I’m replying to comments to point out that it is absurd to blame the victims of a slum lord. It’s also absurd to suggest that people who struggle to pay rent should just up and buy a condo. The fact is that affordable housing is a problem in San Diego, largely because of greed and corruption, and I’m glad the OB Rag is covering these issues.


Woody December 15, 2016 at 8:02 am

Oh and Debbie, you conveniently forgot to mention a down payment. 20% is typical, so $49,000. Small detail. But worry not renters! If you stop squandering your ample paychecks on luxuries like lattes and craft beers and you will be able to save up that kind of cash in no time! Just uh, try not to die of a mold induced illness caused by poor living conditions in the meantime.


Debbie December 15, 2016 at 8:55 am

I did mention a down payment and included 10% in my example. But even at 20% you still cap future living expenses. Woody, I am only offering suggestions. I am not the slum lord.

Yes, it is possible to save. Nothing comes easy and it takes time and effort (excluding those that are physically or mentally disabled). I did not say it was easy – it all depends what one is willing to put into it.

If one is struggling to pay rent…living at the beach is an option they cannot afford.

Happy Holidays to you and all.


triggerfinger December 15, 2016 at 8:39 am

Again, what’s your solution or ideas ? The housing market is grossly overinflated due to speculation, to the detriment of families or anyone that believes the primary purpose of a home is to live in it, not increase your net worth. It’s heartbreaking. We live in a feudal society. I sympathize. Rent control probably isn’t the magic bullet either, it will cause your incoming rent to be that much higher (to make up for the landlords increased risk), and reduce landlords’ incentive to fix anything. It will at least give stability to renters, but will NOT reduce the overall price you pay.


triggerfinger December 15, 2016 at 8:47 am

What were all of you doing during the housing crash when all the homeowners were suffering and upside down by 40%? Did you buy something then, or were you still enjoying your larger nicer rental for less money? You missed your chance. Save your nickels and be ready for the next crash. Before I bought a place my monthly expenses were $400-$500/month beyond my rent. That’s no cable, no cell phone, no eating out, crappy old car etc.


Woody December 15, 2016 at 9:19 am

Debbie, you might not be the slum lord, but you are definitely the slum lord’s apologist and victim blamer-in-chief.

Again, housing is unaffordable for the majority of working people in San Diego, not just at the beach. The problem lies not with the hard working majority, but with the corrupt and greedy few. People have not gotten lazier or worse at budgeting, the cost of living has increased much faster than wages. So please save your condescending advice. It’s not as if these things haven’t occurred to the people affected.

triggerfinger – understanding the problem and exposing those causing it is a first step. First and foremost people need to understand who is screwing them before they can do something about it. Good journalism is key. Then lawsuits, organizing, petitions, protests, regulation, reforms, enforcement…just a few ideas. Rent control is not a magic bullet but should be part of the solution. Stability is important.


Debbie December 15, 2016 at 11:35 am

If you don’t like Mills or what he stands for move on to a place you like. It’s like a marriage, you don’t like your spouse get divorced.

Good Day to you!


Woody December 15, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Again, Debbie, I don’t live in one of Mill’s properties, and I’m sorry but your analogy stinks. You keep trying to place the responsibility on the renters rather than the slumlord, and that is wrong. Many people affected by sudden increases in rent and lack of proper maintenance can’t simply “move on to a place they like”. Moving is costly, lack affordable housing is a problem all over San Diego, home ownership is out of reach for the majority of working…these are complex systemic problems that need to be addressed, and Greedheads like Mills should be held accountable.


Debbie December 15, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Whining gets people no where.

It’s not hard to pack a few carloads, get a friend who has a truck and move. I have done it many times. At times, it’s actually good for the soul to move and start anew.

My analogy was just fine. You just don’t agree.


Marc Snelling December 16, 2016 at 10:33 am

A landlord-tenant relationship is like a married couple? Some marriage you must have!


Debbie December 16, 2016 at 2:00 pm

My suggestion is that if a marriage is bad, then divorce and get out. As with an undesirable landlord, don’t stick around waiting for things to change … move on:-)


Woody December 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Haven’t seen any whining here, and holding slum lords accountable gets people somewhere sometimes. Mills was sentenced to jail and forced to hire a professional property management company as a condition of his probation. That’s a start!

I have a great comic for you Debbie, I think you’ll love it. It’s called the Gospal of Supply Side Jesus, by Al Franken. Happy Holidays and enjoy.


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